Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Part Three - The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity and the Doctrine Of The Trinity Explain Biblical Monotheism

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2 Corinthians 13:14
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all."


In the last two postings, we introduced readers to the doctrine of "Divine Simplicity". To recap what is meant by this idea of "Divine Simplicity", I'll refer readers to click on links to the previous two posts to review the full-discussion:

For those readers short-on-time, we can refer to theologian Wayne Grudem's summarization of the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity (oftentimes designated "DDS"), wherein he uses a synonymous term "unity":

"The unity of God may be defined as follows: 'God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times'. This attribute of God has also been called "God's simplicity', using simple in the less common sense of 'not complex' or 'not composed of parts'. But since the word 'simple' today has the more common sense of 'easy to understand' and 'unintelligent or foolish,' it is more helpful now to speak of God's 'unity' rather than his 'simplicity'. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 177).

Grudem then later notes:

"When scripture speaks about God's attributes it never singles out one attribute of God as more important than all the rest. There is an assumption that every attribute is completely true of God and is true of all of God's character." (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 178).

The Doctrine Of Divine Simplicity Serves To Communicate The Biblical Revelation Of God's Oneness Of Being

The doctrine of Divine Simplicity (DDS) provides theological shorthand for describing God's oneness of being as well as explaining why He is contrasted to His creation. When underscoring the oneness of God's essence or being and what is meant by God being "One God" - the doctrine of divine simplicity aids greatly in safeguarding the Biblical revelation of God as One God. Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century thinker, wrote the following in terms of Divine Simplicity's role in affirming God as one God:

"For God Himself is His own nature. Therefore, in the same way, God is God, and He is this God." 

The doctrine of Divine Simplicity, when allied with the doctrine of the Trinity, expresses not just any bare monotheism (such as found in Islam or some expressions of Judaism), but the specific, Trinitarian monotheism revealed in the Biblical text. Today's post will aim to show how the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity is compatible with the doctrine of Divine simplicity. 

The Doctrine of The Trinity and The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity Can Work Together To Explain The Biblical Revelation Of God

Whenever we speak of the doctrine of the Trinity, we are transitioning from discussing "what God is" as One God to the particular identity of this God. In sum then, the doctrine of the Trinity tells us "who God is", while the doctrine of Divine Simplicity tells us "what God is". Whenever we doctrinally and practically consider the Biblical revelation of God as "one in being and three in Personhood", we can use both these doctrines to approach the Biblical revelation about God.

Plank #1 of the Trinity: God is one in essence, i.e. A Biblical Monotheism

The doctrine of Divine Simplicity is at the root of the first fundamental truth of the doctrine of the Trinity: "monotheism" or the oneness of God's being. Three "planks" comprise the Biblical understanding of the Trinity: 

a. Monotheism = oneness of God's being

b. Plurality of Personhood = that is, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit sharing the Divinely simple nature.

c. The co-equality of the Persons = that is, Father, Son and Spirit are equal in glory, eternity and power in their  sharing the Divinely simple nature.

As explained already, the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity explains to us the oneness of God, and why it is God is one in essence (telling us 'what God is' in and of Himself) and existence (that is, 'how God is' as eternal, uncreated being'). God is His own self-contained, explanation for why He is what He is (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Isaiah 43:10-11; Isaiah 44:6). God as "One God" is unchanging, perfect and incapable of improvement with or without creation (Psalm 102; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 1:5-13). The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 explains this point of monotheism in its second article on "God":

"There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience."

The Baptist Faith and Message asserts an explicit commitment to monotheism, followed by a listing of the main roles and attributes associated with God's very being. The older London Baptist confession of 1689 expresses this first plank of monotheism by including the concept of "simplicity" (i.e. without body parts) which we've discussed:

"The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto....".

The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that God is One God. When explaining this first plank to people, I like to use the phrase "compound unity" to segue into what would be the "second plank", which speaks to plurality of persons. When I say "compound", I'm speaking of the Persons of the Trinity. The term "unity" refers to the simple essence itself. Hence, the doctrine of the Trinity presents God as a compound (with respect to the members of the Godhead) unity (with respect to the essence). God is plural in Person while one in essence.

We must not conceive of the Divine essence as a "fourth" thing, such as an inert cloud, set along side the Three Persons. The next post will explore this second plank in further detail and how the three Persons and the Divine essence are inextricably bound as One God who is Father, Son and Spirit.

For now it is worth noting that with respect to Biblical monotheism, especially the full-orbed revelation of the doctrine in the New Testament, the Three Persons of the Trinity are the living relationship and communion that so defines the Divine essence of God.
The simple essence of God resides in, among and through the Three Persons. If there were no Father, Son and Spirit, there would be no God.The doctrine of Divine Simplicity asserts that God, with respect to His essence or being, is uncompounded. With that said, the doctrine of Divine Simplicity does not conflict nor preclude the plurality of identity or personhood that we see when we speak of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 32; Proverbs 30:4; Isaiah 48; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Why? Simplicity speaks to God's divine existence (i.e. 'how God is God') and essence (i.e. "what God is as God'). 

However, the doctrine of Divine simplicity does not touch upon God's identity (i.e. "who God is as God"). The identity of the Triune Persons reveal a "compound" or "plurality" to the identity of God. As we have stressed in this post, both doctrines partner together to expound the Biblical testimony of what God is and who He is. The second "plank", plurality of personhood, will be the focus of the next post.

More next time....

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